NFC West: Zach Ertz

The NFC West's fiercest current rivals, San Francisco and Seattle, both wound up selecting tight ends from Rice University in the recently completed NFL draft.

How the 49ers and Seahawks selected those tight ends invites a question: Did the 49ers snatch from Seattle a player the Seahawks would have selected?

Tight end was seen as a primary need for the 49ers and a secondary one for the Seahawks based on how each team has run its offense recently.

When NFL teams selected three tight ends between the 21st and 47th selections, San Francisco risked watching more players at the position come off the board before it was scheduled to select with the 61st overall choice. So, with Green Bay on the clock at No. 55 and Seattle scheduled to pick at No. 56, the 49ers traded into the Packers' slot to select Vance McDonald, the more prominent of Rice's tight ends last season.

Seattle then traded back six spots to No. 62 before selecting Texas A&M running back Christine Michael. The Seahawks later selected McDonald's teammate, tight end Luke Willson, in the fifth round at No. 158 overall.

To my knowledge, no one asked 49ers general manager Trent Baalke or his Seattle counterpart, John Schneider, about the sequence when San Francisco jumped past the Seahawks to select McDonald. The two men worked together in Washington years ago and could have a good feel for the other's tendencies. However, there is no way the 49ers could have known whether the Seahawks or any other team was going to select McDonald between the 55th and 61st selections.

"There's times when you want to sit tight and there’s a lot of times where people will question, 'Well, why did you move up five when he would have been there?'" Baalke told reporters when discussing trades in general. "Well, there’s no proof that the player would have been there. So, you do what you need to do to make sure you get the players you want to get."

By trading up six spots, the 49ers moved past Atlanta, New England, Denver, Houston and Seattle in the draft order. Three of those five teams selected tight ends later in the draft. Atlanta used a fourth-rounder for Stanford's Levine Toilolo. Seattle used the fifth-rounder for Willson. Houston used a sixth-rounder for Ryan Griffin from Connecticut.

Baalke could have sized up those teams' needs collectively when deciding to move up for McDonald. He might not have had only the Seahawks in mind.

The 49ers had enough picks to move around the board freely to fill needs at values agreeable to them. The price they paid Green Bay for the 55th choice -- the 61st and 173rd picks -- was lower than the price Seattle commanded for the 56th selection (Baltimore handed over the 62nd, 165th and 199th picks for that one).

[+] EnlargeVance McDonald
AP Photo/Dave MartinSan Francisco traded up in the second round to select Rice tight end Vance McDonald.
Comparatively, then, the 49ers got a good deal. Why not move up if the price is right? The Packers have long been known as a team willing to move back for additional picks. They simply could have made for a convenient trading partner whether or not Seattle was scheduled to select one spot later.

Teams usually have several players in mind for each selection they hold. They move up when the list of players they consider worthy of a certain value range dwindles, or if a specific player within striking distance is rated far higher than others likely to be available to them. They move down when the list of worthy players is longer.

"I don't know that you ever trade back six, seven, eight picks and hope one player's there," Baalke said when explaining why the 49ers traded back six spots to No. 40. "That's risky business. So, we had a number of players that we were willing to take. And at that time we felt that one of that group of guys was going to be available at 40, and we would have been happy with all of them."

The fact that McDonald and Willson both played at Rice before winding up in the NFC West seems coincidental.

"Vance was obviously the more stout guy, if you will," Schneider said. "Willson was more of the down-the-field threat, but there is no question Vance was much more involved in their offense."

Injuries limited Willson in 2012. He previously played first base on the Canadian national team and spent time in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. According to the Vancouver Sun, Willson posted impressive numbers at his pro day: 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 38-inch vertical leap, 10-plus feet in the broad jump and 23 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.

"We like the fact that for us he was the second-best tester of all the tight ends in this draft," Schneider said. "He is 6-5 1/2, running 4.51 and great hands, can get down the field. He is quick off the ball, gets his shoulders around quick. He is a really interesting prospect for us."

Baalke said his team valued McDonald's versatility in particular. McDonald also led all tight ends at the NFL scouting combine with 31 reps on the bench press.

"He's 260-plus pounds, he's got a huge wingspan, he's got big hands," Baalke said. "He lines up all over the place. He lines up a little bit in the backfield. He lines up on the line of scrimmage. He lines up in the wing position, off the line of scrimmage. And he also lines up outside. He's smart, he's tough and he is a good fit within our system."
San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said his team had a specific player in mind with the 34th choice in the 2013 NFL draft.

Perhaps the team will get that player with the 40th choice instead.

The 49ers traded the 34th pick to Tennessee for the 40th and 216th choices, plus a 2014 third-rounder. Adding a third-round pick in 2014 continues to set up the 49ers for the future. Losing six spots in the second round was no problem for a 49ers team with few holes in its roster.

The Titans used the 34th pick for receiver Justin Hunter.

Zach Ertz, the Stanford tight end some thought the 49ers might covet, went to Philadephia at No. 35. Ertz played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and against new Eagles coach Chip Kelly when Kelly was at Oregon.

2013 NFL mock draft roundup: NFC West

April, 25, 2013
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The list of projections for NFC West teams in 2013 mock drafts includes Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, Dion Jordan, Lane Johnson, D.J. Fluker, Tavon Austin, Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Alec Ogletree, Matt Elam, DeAndre Hopkins, Montee Ball, Kawann Short, Margus Hunt, Zach Ertz, D.J. Hayden and Jesse Williams.

The chart below lists those players by which mock drafters projected them to land with NFC West teams. I've attempted to order the mocks by when they were posted.

Some mock drafters try harder than others to get the picks correct exactly. Those accepting the futility of such a pursuit settle for projecting the highest possible number of players in the first round, regardless of team. Rob Rang takes that approach. Others project based on what they think teams should do. Howard Balzer has taken that approach.

Update: Don Banks has subsequently filed a new mock draft in which NFC West teams traded two of their selections. The chart still reflects his April 17 mock. To view his final mock, filed Thursday, check out the link.

Second update: Mel Kiper Jr. has updated his mock to show the 49ers selecting Reid.

Predicting which teams will draft specific players can be tough work.

Last year, for instance, the seven-round mock draft Insider from Scouts Inc. went 0-for-28 in projecting players to NFC West teams. Some of the projections lined up from the standpoint of position. For example, the Seattle Seahawks did select a linebacker in the second round, but it was Bobby Wagner, not Lavonte David. The St. Louis Rams did take a receiver in the second round, but it was Brian Quick, not Rueben Randle.

One unexpected turn in a draft can throw off subsequent projections. The 2013 draft appears particularly tough to handicap. John Schneider, the Seattle Seahawks' general manager, recently said he could not recall a draft quite like this one from that standpoint.

So, good luck, mock drafters.

The Scouts Inc. seven-round mock for 2013 Insider provides a conversation starter as we navigate the final day before the real draft begins.

A run through the picks for NFC West teams (with a head nod to similar pieces from Kevin Seifert and Jamison Hensley for the divisions they cover):

Arizona Cardinals

Jordan's availability at No. 7 might come as a surprise. The Cardinals would, in theory, improve their outside pass rush with that selection.

The Barkley projection might catch you off-guard after Carson Palmer's arrival changed the subject away from quarterbacks. Drew Stanton has some salary guarantees, too. I'm skeptical.

The Scouts Inc. projection would extend to six the streak of drafts without Arizona selecting an offensive lineman in the first three rounds. Jordan Mills, the projected choice in the fifth round, wouldn't help the situation at guard, where the team has a need, in my view.

The Cardinals would also come away without immediate help at safety and without a speed receiver. The offense wouldn't improve enough right away through this draft.

St. Louis Rams

Safety, running back, receiver, guard and outside linebacker might be the five top needs for the Rams, not necessarily in that order.

The Scouts Inc. mock addresses each of those needs with the Rams' first five picks.

The Rams will have to balance clear needs at safety and elsewhere against a big-picture desire to continue building the roster for the long term with additional choices secured from the Washington Redskins.

At 231 pounds, Lacy would fill the Rams' need for a bigger back after the team allowed Steven Jackson out of his contract. Lacy, Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson would give the Rams a talented young committee at the position.

San Francisco 49ers

There's very little chance the 49ers will hold onto all 13 of their selections, of course. They'll have the flexibility to move forward, move back or even trade into the 2014 draft.

The projection for Brandon Williams in the third round caught my attention.

Williams is a 335-pounder from Missouri Southern State. He cranked out 38 reps in the bench press at the scouting combine, most among defensive tackles. Scouts think he projects to multiple positions across multiple schemes in the NFL. That would appeal to a team such as the 49ers.

Williams played at the NCAA Division II level. Would the 49ers use a third-round choice for a Division II prospect? They used a sixth-rounder for Western Oregon's Jason Slowey last year, the only time San Francisco has selected a Division II player over the past two drafts.

It's an interesting thought. The 49ers do have a need for a big, talented, versatile defensive lineman. They could bring along a prospect such as Williams with an eye toward 2014.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are one of two teams without a first-round selection after sending theirs to Minnesota in the Percy Harvin deal.

The second-round projection, Sio Moore of Connecticut, would give the Seahawks a weakside linebacker to play with Wagner (middle) and K.J. Wright (strong side).

The team also has plans for Cliff Avril at linebacker, at least in some capacity. There's room for a standard weakside linebacker after the Seahawks allowed Leroy Hill to reach free agency.

Tavarres King, the Georgia receiver projected in the fifth round, is known as a vertical threat. He averaged 22.6 yards per reception last season.

A run through McShay's two-round mock

March, 29, 2013
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Thoughts on Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider projections for NFC West teams:

Arizona Cardinals: Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson (first round, No. 7 overall) and North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon (second round, No. 38) were the projections. Quarterback and offensive line were trouble points last season. Arizona needs to plan for the future -- and present -- at both positions. Johnson was the third offensive tackle drafted under McShay's scenario. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, the choice for Arizona at No. 7 in McShay's previous mock, was not available this time. The Cardinals haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since taking Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007. Steve Keim, promoted to general manager this year, reportedly wanted Adrian Peterson instead that year. Keim's read on offensive linemen would appear well qualified. He played on the offensive line at North Carolina State. The Cardinals have stressed drafting for value, not need. Defensive line and wide receiver are two positions the team might be less apt to address early, however. Coach Bruce Arians has said those positions are strengths.

St. Louis Rams: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (first round, No. 16), North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (first round, No. 22) and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (second round, No. 46) were the projections for St. Louis in the first two rounds. West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin had been the projection for St. Louis at No. 16 in McShay's previous mock. This time, Austin went to Tampa Bay at No. 13. The Rams seem to like their receivers more than outsiders like them, but they could still draft one early. Defensive line is already a strength for the Rams, but that's no reason to steer clear of Williams if the value is right. Having two picks in the first round takes off pressure from a need standpoint. Lacy makes sense in the second round. He's a bigger back at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds. Coach Jeff Fisher has said he'd like to add a bigger back this offseason. Lacy did have turf-toe issues in college, however. That is something to consider.

San Francisco 49ers: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins (first round, No. 31), Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (second round, No. 34) and Florida International safety John Cyprien (second round, No. 61) were the projections from McShay this time. Margus Hunt, the player McShay projected to the 49ers at No. 31 his previous mock, lasted until the 39th choice in this two-round version. The 49ers could use impact players at the positions addressed by McShay's projections. Would Jenkins fit along the line at 346 pounds? That seems heavier than the 49ers would prefer for their scheme, especially if playing defensive end is part of the expectation, but McShay says Jenkins could do that for the 49ers. The team has not drafted a true defensive lineman since using a 2009 seventh-round choice for Ricky Jean Francois. Ray McDonald was a third-rounder in 2007. Justin Smith was a free-agent addition in 2008. Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs stuck as undrafted players more recently. Glenn Dorsey was signed in free agency this year after the 49ers watched Jean Francois and Isaac Sopoaga depart. Perhaps this is the year the team drafts a defensive lineman early.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks do not own a first-round pick. McShay has them taking 335-pound Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams (second round, No. 56). Under this scenario, Williams would be the seventh defensive tackle selected. Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson, Sylvester Williams, Jenkins and Kawann Short were off the board. The seventh defensive tackle went 87th overall last year. Drafting a defensive tackle makes sense from a need standpoint. Seattle signed veteran Tony McDaniel as a lower-cost alternative to Alan Branch. Using a second-round choice for another one would put into place an affordable future starter and someone to contribute to a rotation right away.

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